Review: ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ is a stunning showcase

Gurjeet Singh and Serena Manteghi leap with joy
Gurjeet Singh and Serena Manteghi leap with joy

Scarborough teenager Ruth Allison reviews the Stephen Joseph Theatre's show that is dazzling audiences this summer.

Ever since the 1998 film starring Jane Horrocks, Michael Caine and Ewan McGregor was released, ‘Little Voice’ has held a place in the hearts of the people of Scarborough.

So, you can imagine the excitement around the area when the town’s famous theatre announced that their headlining summer show was ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’, written by Lancashire-born playwright Jim Cartwright. As a seventeen-year-old drama enthusiast and keen writer, it was only natural that I got caught up in the hype too, especially after living in Scarborough for all my life. This is what excited me to watch the performance and I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest…

Performed in the famous Theatre-In-the Round, the play packs a gritty, northern punch right from lights up. Serena Manteghi (who stunningly leads the show as LV) and Polly Lister (Mari, LV’s overbearing mother) beautifully establish the poignant relationship between the two characters- the alcoholic mother who is cared for by her timid, lonely daughter.

Under the direction of Paul Robinson, Manteghi and Lister are supported by Sean McKenzie (Ray Say, the sleazy wannabe music producer who uses Mari for LV’s talent), Siôn Tudor Owens (an equally sleazy nightclub owner), Gurjeet Singh (Billy, LV’s shy, awkward, love interest) and Laura Crowhurst (Sadie, Mari’s, should we say, ‘slow’ friend).

The cast take us through the journey of LV’s life in ways that are both tender and harsh. Manteghi acts the part brilliantly, even though the character remains as good as silent in act one. The quietness adds a softness to the loud, gritty show. This is also contributed to by Singh as he plays his equally timid character. The chemistry between the two actors is impeccable and innocent.

Arguably, the character comes to life even more in the beginning of act two in a scene set in Mr Boo’s nightclub, dazzling the stage with a medley of her favourite songs, all of which were originally performed by artists such Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner and Judy Garland.

These are the records that she uses to escape her difficult life, so it is natural that she can impersonate these artists perfectly; without a doubt Manteghi does this. Although it is not specifically stated in the script where LV suddenly gained the confidence that she needed to perform in the nightclub after being so reserved in act one, it lets the audience’s imagination run wild to fill in the gap of LV’s story. What did Mari and Ray Say do to her to make her perform over the course of the twenty-minute interval?

In my opinion, Jason Taylor (lighting), Simon Slater (sound) and Tim Meacock (design) really made the bold, brassy show. Meacock made clever use of the space, utilising the ‘voms’ (or the entrances to the stage, to you and me) to their full potential.

For example, the largest out of the three depicts a simple street scene (complete with a lamp post), however it also doubles as the performance space in which LV performs in the nightclub. In another corner of the stage, LV and Mari’s house is created on 2 levels- LV’s bedroom is built above their highly detailed kitchen. One of my personal highlights was the ‘fire’ scene which really submersed the audience in the more technical sides of the show, created by Taylor and Slater. Sparks quite literally flew as the stage blacked-out. Sirens rang, lights flashed all as Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ pounded through the speakers. The technicians used their tools to build the tension brilliantly, as the stage dressers changed the set dressed as fireman, which added a slight sense of humour in the darkness of the scene.

The soundtrack of the show was also very up my street. As a fan of a range of music from the last century, I practically burst with joy when I heard everything from Shirley Bassey to Billy Idol, Judy Garland to The Jackson Five, all rounded off with a beautiful rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Songbird’. Interestingly, whilst watching the performance I noticed that the loud bold music from the seventies almost represented the characters of Mari and Ray Say- they’re so bold and garish in terms of style, with a joyful exuberance for life. This was then contrasted by the music of the likes of Garland & Co, which arguable (in the same way) represented the character of LV. The classiness of the music that she sang added understated confidence to the character, in my opinion, despite keeping her quiet sense of innocence.

All in all, ‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ is a superb, stunning showcase that will make any Scarborian proud, young or old. With delightful comedy, emotional performances and true Northern grit, this show offers something to please everyone.

‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ is running at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough until the 19th August (with weeks where there are no performances.)